DEAR MISS MANNERS: As an educator in a graduate professional education program, I frequently invite guest lecturers. I've had two dilemmas:
The first lecturer informs the class that certain research has been cross-culturally "universally" validated. I know that the research was done only with males. Is it rude for me to bring it up? What if I won't have the chance to correct the information with the students on another occasion?
The second lecturer, an African-American female, presents views of her social reality that are disturbing to two white male students, who challenge her views and ask for statistics to verify them. When the lecturer cites her Ph.D., one student calls out, "I don't care about your Ph.D." and leaves the room. Should I, as host educator, have intervened, or would that have been paternalistic?
GENTLE READER: It would be paternalistic to treat an African-American female professor more protectively than you would any other guest lecturer. This brings us back to your underlying dilemma, which is that you feel torn between maintaining decorum and permitting debate.
Miss Manners is afraid that you, like many others, believe these goals to be incompatible. On the contrary, it is decorum that allows dissent to be aired, and it is your job to ensure both. Academic lectures should always allow debate, and decorum should always prevail, there as elsewhere.
In the first example, your own dissent was suppressed. There would have been nothing rude about your using the question period to ask for a demographic breakdown of the research.
The second was characterized by neither decorum nor debate. The request for statistics was reasonable, and the lecturer was rude in dismissing it by citing her credentials. At that point, you could have intervened by saying, "Of course, but we would all be interested in hearing your data."
Instead, the student turned rude. What you could have said after the student left was, "I apologize for the outburst. Now we would all be interested in hearing your data."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My brother's wife had an emergency C-section in her seventh month of pregnancy. She was carrying twins. One of the babies was stillborn, while the other is making promising progress.
What is the best way to acknowledge the joy of a new baby while recognizing their tremendous loss? They are planning a funeral for their one twin. I was thinking of sending them a bouquet of two kinds of flowers -- one for each of their sons. Any thoughts/guidance would be most appreciated.
GENTLE READER: You are right to acknowledge both events, but treating the birth and the death together strikes Miss Manners as if you are saying, in effect, "Win some, lose some." That is surely not the thought you intend to convey.
By all means send flowers to the funeral, although Miss Manners hopes that as the child's uncle, you can also offer more intimate support. The surviving child is also your nephew, and his arrival should be celebrated in the usual way -- with visits and a willingness to listen to endless reports about him. It is also customary to give a present, but that should be a toy, clothes or other baby paraphernalia, not a twin version of his brother's funeral flowers.